Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

where memories live

imageThis is the tag on my father’s blanket. The blanket he had long before I was born, probably bought before my mother reunited with him in the Phillipines, 13 months after they married.

It’s a softly worn (once scratchy) wool, something like the old Pendleton three-stripe blankets (and it has three black stripes). Years ago, it had a Christmas green hand-stitched binding. Now, it has a black binding, hand-stitched with love by my baby sister.

When my mother was in the hospital for several months, and we realised she would never be able to live w/out care again, we divvied up most of her things. She couldn’t take an entire houseful (a stuffed-to-the-windows house full!) to her new assisted living apartment. So my math whiz husband figured out a fair way for us to each (the four sisters) ‘bid’ on my mother’s things.

I realise this sounds macabre — or worse — to some folks. But we wanted to be fair, and there was no hope (given my mother’s Alzheimer’s and her physical fragility) that she would be able to live even with my 2nd sister, who had kept Mother for some time.

My mother’s life was as full of travel as my own — perhaps even more. Her house was full of memories: exotic carved chests and lacquered hangings; precious jewels (emeralds and rubies and gold and a LOT of silver); Thai silk and brocade; furniture and housewares and china and you can’t even imagine it all.Daddy with Buick

I bid on this old blanket. Not on emeralds, as my husband still teases me. Not on sterling flatware, or even a bronze tea set. But on my father’s old blanket. Because to me, it’s a tangible reminder of Daddy.

As a Buddhist, I try hard not to get too attached to ‘things.’ It’s just stuff, I used to tell my mother when she bemoaned a broken plate, a cracked vase. And watching as my husband refused to leave a war zone — just to ship stuff home! — almost did me in. NOTHING is worth a life.

But memories are odd creatures, and build nests in strange places. This blanket lay on Daddy’s bed sometimes, although my mother had beautiful linens. But this was Daddy’s special blanket (I still don’t know why), and it made every one of our many moves. Ending up (for me, at least), forgotten at my sister’s, who promised to rebind it. It made a move with her, as well — into her darling new duplex apartment.

And now it’s home, with me. I look at it, thrown over the sofa in the family room, and the room shifts: my father is sitting in another living room, and we’re talking about something. It doesn’t really matter what. For that priceless moment, I can see him, hear his voice, smell his distinctive aftershave&sweat&Stetson hat smell. That’s what I bid on. It just happens to live inside a soft, 70-year-old blanket. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

wildflowers, watermelon, and summer negligence

2014-07-18 18.28.51This is part of what I did today. Certainly the better part.

After an early morning — spent w/ a lawyer, not every my favourite thing to do — my sister called and needed help. She’d been left holding the bag (actually, 6 bags) for her HS reunion gig tonight, and hoped her big sis would help out.

Of course!

So I picked some flowers from the garden, she picked up Thai soup, and we got to work cutting up fruit for trays, and bread for cocktail sandwiches. And I did just fine until…the watermelon <cue solemn voice of foreboding>.

This next photo is NSF blood-phobes. I cut my finger w/ our verrry sharp new cleaver. You might say… I clove it. BIG slice into the finger and its poor nail. It’s like the WORST papercut. cut fingerStitches almost certainly won’t help, so I didn’t even bother.

Sigh. My sister was horrified — it bled alot. But it’s stopped that, and left this interesting pattern of honeycomb on the Bandaid that had nothing like that before it wrapped my finger.

You’ll be seeing shorter posts for a few days, I assure you. Typing is… iffy. Make that ouch-y.

I still feel like Isaac Bashevis Singer, though: if it hadn’t been this, who knows what it might have been? And it was great to see my sis! I blame the whole thing on the watermelon, personally.

we are NOT failures

 

via google

via google

A dear friend, in a recent conversation, told me that a mixup at her job was all her fault. It wasn’t (just FYI), but she’s been trained — as both a female and a good person — to accept responsibility for when things go wrong that she’s involved in.

Here’s the problem with that: sometimes, $#!+ happens.  And there’s nothing to do to plan for it, nothing to do to avoid it. Because it wasn’t your fault.

But so often, my friends — and not only my female friends, although we’re the worst — bow their shoulders and accept that burden.

I’m not advocating for flaky responsibility shirking, believe me. But I wonder when it became acceptable for top-level execs to shrug off responsibilities (I’m looking at America’s big companies, now), accept bonuses even when their companies are failing, and just go on. While my friends shoulder the blame (which is how it feels) for events unrelated to their own actions.

no fail

via google

How did things go so cockeyed?? What happened to lovingkindness? We certainly wouldn’t treat our friends like this!

My friend is not responsible for personalities, for instance. Some folks just don’t get along, so they won’t talk. You can’t make them. They don’t like each other — even if they don’t ‘dislike’ each other — and that means they are going to go out of their way to avoid communication. Is that MY fault? Or her fault? If adults don’t act like adults, are you responsible for that?

Me? I tend to give folks the benefit of the doubt. I assume you’re grown-up until you show me otherwise. So usually, something unpleasant-ish has to happen before I realise I will have to ‘manage’ you differently.

And that’s my point: we are NONE OF US ‘failures.’ Sure we ‘fail’ at activities, projects, events, whatever. But I see a homeless kid tackle an app to Harvard, a former drug addict put together a drug therapy program. My sister works at Goodwill Industries, where ‘failure’ is just not operative. Every day she could tell you a success story.

I’m just saying: quit beating yourself up, America. Except for those flaky execs, who could use a bit more mea culpa. And we could all use more lovingkindness.

right livelihood

via google

via google

Recently someone asked me why I hate capitalism. I don’t. I do hate greed (and I wish I could — with accuracy — use a less violent verb).

There’s nothing wrong with an honest living. We all deserve a home — shelter — food, clothing, and medical care. An education. Skill sets. Independence, in other words. And that requires an income.

Today I read a review on one of my favourite websites, brainpickings.org. It’s a GREAT site, in case you aren’t familiar with it: running reviews of current, classic, even antiquated books and other media that are thought-provoking in the best sense of the term.

The review I read I’ve been saving, as the title spoke to me: Buddhist Economics. And yup — there was my old friend right livelihood. It’s the sticky wicket for a lot of my non-Buddhist acquaintances (even, I’m sure, some friends & family). It’s the principle underlying my refusal to buy Chick-Fil-A, or shop at WalMArt. Their practices hurt people. Attack people I love. So to encourage that ongoing harm with my $$ is, at least according to my interpretation of right livelihood, to participate in the harm.

Here’s the thoughtful Thích Nhất Hạnh on right livelihood:

Right Livelihood is a collective matter. The livelihood of each person affects all of us, and vice versa. The butcher’s children may benefit from my teaching, while my children, because they eat meat, share some responsibility for the butcher’s livelihood of killing.

from Right Livelihood, by Thích Nhất Hạnh

In other words? It’s not only what we do for our own ‘job,’ but whom we support — whom we buy from, pay to, watch, vote for — as well. With our actions, our $$, our attentions. So for me, right livelihood is one of the anchor threads of the Buddhist ‘web.’ You believe in the Buddha’s teachings, sure. And you try to live your life according to them. Which brings you smack uppaside of right livelihood. :) spider web

Now here’s the deal: I like my work. I ADORE teaching. That doesn’t mean, however, that I don’t need to pay my bills. Feed myself, any family I have. So I am NOT saying that Buddhists should accept crap wages because we’re ‘above’ all that. As the review quotes E.F. Schumacher arguing, it’s not wealth itself that’s the problem. It’s the craving for wealth, the attachment to what it buys.

This is  pretty obvious when you look at American business today (and we return, circuitously, to the accusation that I hate capitalism): there is never enough profit for some folks. Workers are let go, other workers required to do more, vacations and benefits cut, and entire companies gutted by the desire for more. Desire, attachment, greed — it’s all taṇhā, translated as ‘thirst, desire, craving.’ The hunger for more.

That’s sooo not Buddhist economics. Yes, I need to make a living. And if I’m verrry good at what I do, it’s fine if you pay me lots. In fact, I would LOVE that! :) But it’s NOT fine if I make a living by hurting anyone else, because I thirst, or hunger, or just plain WANT more stuff. More Benjamins. A bigger, faster car. Whatever. That’s not okay.

So it’s not capitalism. It’s not even capitalists. It’s greed, and inhumanity that set me off. Because those are NOT ‘good business,’ despite what the Koch brothers would like us to believe. They’re very bad Buddhism. And I’m NOT okay with that.

 

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where memories live
This is the tag on my father's blanket. The blanket he had long before I was born, probably bought before my mother reunited with him in the Phillipines, 13 months after they married. It's a softly worn (once scratchy) wool, something like the old Pendleton three-stripe blankets (and it has three

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